As we pulled into the driveway of the Madinat Jumeirah Resort in Dubai, our driver whistled. “You are going to have a NICE time, Insha’ Alla,” he said, as we drove past a series of statues of gold horses, rearing up in the sunlight.
Yep. This might officially be the fanciest hotel in the world.
A porter opened our car door, and whisked us to the front desk, where we were welcomed with fresh fruit juice and cold towels. But we didn’t linger – a concierge appeared to guide us to a small courtyard, where a golf buggy was waiting to ferry us to our villa.
Madinat Jumeirah is a luxury resort that actually has three (soon to be four) separate hotels. We were staying at the hotel’s most premium accommodation – Dar Al Masyaf, which translates as “summer houses”.
Dar Al Masyaf is a series of 29 villas set in landscaped gardens, each containing between 8 and 11 suites. Each villa has its own 24-hour butler, and a private pool, which is shared between two villas. Costing between £550 and £800 a night, each one bedroom villa can sleep up to four people.
On arrival at the hotel, you are driven to your villa to be checked in by your butler in comfort and privacy, and the process is ridiculously easy. Checking in at the villa means there’s no waiting in line, and you’re cool and comfortable – bonus!
Our butler showed us around our room, which I thought was impressively spacious. There is free, fast WiFi everywhere that’s a cinch to access, and makes life so much easier – you can download maps and menus to help plan your stay on the resort.
I loved the design of the summer houses – each room on the ground floor has its own private outside seating area, but there is also a really pretty central courtyard shared by all the villa’s occupants, and where the butler serves complimentary drinks during a daily ‘happy hour’. The rooms have all the facilities you’d expect in this quality of hotel, and a few more besides – on our first day, we found a stash of kids pool toys and some soft toy turtles in our room, the next day there was sun cream and a hat, with some Elemis toiletries.
The villa butler will arrange a golf buggy or traditional boat (abra) to take you from your villa to anywhere on the resort you’d like to visit – and there’s certainly plenty to see. While you’re out and about you can flag down passing boats and buggies, or a member of staff will call one for you – although at busy times, there can be a bit of a wait, and it’s a reasonable walk from one end of the resort to another (although it’s pretty, which sort of balances out the hot walk!)
Actually, on the weekend, the atmosphere of the resort changes a lot, as locals and ex-pats gather in the hotel’s public areas and open bars for drinks and brunch. During these times, people who aren’t guests at the hotel can pay a fee to take a tour of the resort on one of the Abra boats – it’s certainly an experience to be riding on a boat around canals, in the middle of Dubai.
There are 19 swimming pools on the resort, including the villa private pools, and every pool we saw had lifeguards on duty throughout the day (even the private pools). There are countless restaurants, from a pretty waterside Thai restaurant to a steak house and the beach-side glamour of Shimmers on the Beach. The resort even has its own souk, where you can shop for – well, just about anything, really.
Our first job as guests was to take a buggy along the beach front to the Wild Wadi Water Park, which is adjacent to the hotel, and guests of Madinat Jumeirah will enjoy free, unlimited access to the park. I have to say that, given a free choice, Flea might have spent our entire week in Dubai at the water park, we had such a lot of fun there. We opted to walk back to the hotel along the beach at sunset, which was SO pretty, although we both thought it was hilarious how many golf buggies stopped as they passed us, asking why we were walking, and were we completely sure we didn’t want a lift?
The hotel has a private, 2km long beach, pristine white sands and small waves make this perfect for families. It’s just as relaxing and indulgent as the rest of the resort, with waiter service for when you need a snack, or a fresh cocktail, and plenty of staff to find you a sun lounger and lay out towels for you.
For dinner, we opted to eat at the Shimmers restaurant, which was lovely – eating on the beach in the warmth of Dubai was such a treat, and Flea thought the light-up menus were pretty much the coolest thing she’d ever seen. The fish was fresh and perfectly cooked, and the staff were super friendly – when Flea discovered the scallops weren’t quite to her taste, the chef was very happy to cook her some ravioli from scratch, which was delicious (I had to test it, for the purposes of the review, of course). Flea also chowed down on a steak, which was again, perfectly cooked.
A small note of caution, though – dining in Dubai is expensive!
Jumeirah offers guests a dining package where you can use one voucher a day to buy lunch or dinner on the resort at any restaurant, but supplements are payable at some of the more expensive restaurants. We spoke to a family who paid an additional £50 a head on top of their voucher to have dinner at the Thai restaurant for example. And if you want a drink, make sure you’re ready for the price tag – I had a small glass of white wine with my dinner, which cost £27 – expensive, even by Dubai standards. It’s important to plan ahead and budget, I’d say.
The following day, our hot air balloon ride was cancelled due to bad weather, so we took the opportunity to spend a few hours checking out some of the main pools at Madinat Jumeirah. All of the pools we tried were clean and well-maintained, with lots of lifeguards in evidence. Again, the hotel goes out of its way to make your life easier, with staff to fetch towels and sun loungers.
I particularly loved how the sun loungers at the main pool have ‘call buttons’ so you can request waiter service without needing to stand up.
I know, I know, it’s so lazy it’s untrue, but we TOTALLY used this facility to order our lunch (wagyu beef chilli tacos for me, cheeseburger and onion rings for Flea with two Diet Cokes – total cost around £50) .
Throughout the day, staff also made the rounds with frozen ice lollies and pieces of fruit, as well as deliveries of ice buckets with bottles of water – it gets seriously HOT in Dubai and it’s important to keep hydrated!
It’s easy to imagine that this sort of resort isn’t kid friendly, but it really is. Although it’s a little calmer than the family-oriented Jumeirah Beach hotel, having a villa with grounds and a pool is the perfect option for families with older children (very young kids might find the walks from place to place a bit much) and there are a ridiculous number of things to do. Personally, I loved the calmer and more secluded feel and this is certainly the hotel I’d opt for if I was heading back to Dubai.
The villas at Dar Al Masyaf are also pretty special – we loved the private pool, perfect for lazy late afternoons – and having your own lifeguard means parents can have piece of mind (although I felt sorry for the staff who are sitting by the pools all day when they’re mostly empty!)
We checked out Sinbad’s Kids Club which offers a full daily program, with 1,000 square metres of pools and play areas – you can book children in and specify whether you want your children to be kept on-site, or whether you’d like them to be able to pop in and out throughout the day, so they can come and see you while you’re relaxing poolside without them… if you’re the sort of parent that would do this (and I TOTALLY am).
There are some really fun activities at the kids’ club – we really enjoyed trying out the video games room, where games are projected onto the floor, and children can play by jumping on the images they see. There’s also a really fun wall-mounted game that involves frantically pushing buttons and racing against other players in the room. LOTS of fun!
Every Wednesday morning, children can also join the resort’s staff to feed the turtles. Madinat Jumeirah has its own turtle sanctuary which rescues thousands of injured turtles each year, and nurses them back to health before releasing them into the wild. Flea loved learning more about the project, and getting the chance to feed the turtles herself. It doesn’t cost anything to join in, which is lovely.
Of course, this is Dubai so you reach a point where you’re not so surprised by the ridiculously over-the-top nature of things – but the Kids Afternoon Tea at Madinat Jumeirah really is quite something to see. Children are treated to their own tray of hand-made treats including ice creams made of egg mayonnaise, cheeseburger macaroons and ketchup bottles that are really vanilla and raspberry sauce in disguise. There are kids’ cocktails on the side, of course – and parents can get their own version of afternoon tea, too – which is spectacular, of course.
It’s all served on the gorgeous patio of the Al Samar lounge, with views over the water to the beach beyond, and makes for a lovely place to lounge for a few hours and enjoy the sunshine. For us it was the perfect way to round off a gorgeous stay where we were completely indulged and pampered at every step.
We stayed at Madinat Jumeirah Dar Al Masyaf as guests of Jumeirah and Visit Dubai. For further information see the Jumeirah website.
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